The Ultimate Question to UX

When I was 15, I first read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. At the time I was amused by the snarky humor and tone. Recently I reread the first book of the series and while I found myself disenchanted by the writing, I was intrigued by a particular entry.

Spoilers Included. One of the themes of The Hitchhiker Books is the understanding of Life, The Universe, and Everything. A species in an alternate dimension develop a computer, ‘Deep Thought’, to uncover the answer to the ultimate question. The following is an excerpt between the computer and scientists as the answer is revealed.

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” – Deep Thought

“But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” – Scientists

Now what is interesting about this quote is when I first read the books I wasn’t involved in UX. I wasn’t even aware of UX as a field. Rereading this passage I immediately identify with the sentiment, to the processes I explore, and to the conversations I have with clients.

When addressing client engagements, we often come up with solutions before fully understanding the problem space. Even the best of us have preconceived notions on what a solution could be as we enter discovery. We rely on previous work, influence from clients or ‘best in breed’ examples and we tarnish our clean slate with these assumptions.

This passage from the book is a good reminder that while we might have a solution in mind or think we understand a problem, it might be for the wrong reasons. Knowing the question – the problem – we are striving to solve for is critical in designing the appropriate solution. Otherwise we end up with elegant solutions for the wrong problem, or for a problem that doesn’t exist. After all, we can always ask “How many roads must a man walk down?”



Guerrilla Research is Hard

There’s a lot to be said about Guerrilla research in UX. Todd Zaki Warfel and Russ Unger have a great summary of the practice. Over the last few years, I have lost my edge at guerrilla tactics. I have been sheltered by a larger organization and my research has tended to be methodical and refined. All that has since changed. I’m working in a smaller team – a UX team of One. And my priorities have changed. I am no longer one of many designers part of a team. I need to balance my time and efforts while holding onto one of the key pillars I believe in – client and user involvement and feedback.

So where does that leave me? At the time I am writing this I am sitting in a Starbucks down the street from my office. I have a stack of simple scripts to follow in one hand and $5 gift cards in the other. I am eyeing every person who walks in trying to decide if they are quickly grabbing a coffee or setting up camp. Can I time my approach to be friendly while allowing them to get settled (but not so settled that they are already doing their own work)?

I’ve been here just over an hour. And I’ve been equally rejected and allowed to conduct some research. Each time the other person has been friendly, understanding, and very helpful. So what have I learned?



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Market Differentiation

You do not differentiate yourself through buzzwords. You do not differentiate yourself by finding new words for the same thing.

You differentiate yourself by being approachable and by doing work in a different, new, or novel manner.


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A Rant: Privacy and the Internet

It’s that time of year again. People are applying for jobs having received their degrees and they are ‘scrubbing’ or ‘sanitizing’ their social media presence for fear that hiring managers will see pictures of them doing keg stands, drugs, or just generally being a little less than responsible on the internet. This concern is valid. HR departments have been known to use employees, interns, and their own accounts to dig up ‘dirt’ on people’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, to see if the individual presented on the resume and at the interview matches the personality on the internet. As a result, I have seen numerous friends and colleagues try and game the system by changing their last name to their middle name (or something else all-together) on Facebook and other sites.

What we need to remember, is that this is a placebo solution. Changing your name doesn’t change what posted. It simply makes it more obvious you are trying to hide something. Aaron Irizarry (@aaroni) posted on Facebook this week:

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 9.30.01 AM

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2013 IA Summit in Review

Today I return to the office after an extended weekend in Baltimore for the 2013 IA Summit. In spite of the expected lag from a weekend of discussing IA and catching up with friends, I want to capture some of my thoughts from the week, while still fresh.


Overall Reactions

This was an amazing Summit. Thank you to Kevin, Crystal, and Giles as well as the entire volunteer committee for putting on a great show. Having been involved with organizing the conference in 2012 , I know what goes into an event like this and the dedication shows through.

A special thank you to everyone who attended The F Word…Fail and provided any feedback throughout my preparation and presentation.

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